How Did Working-Class Feminists Meet the Challenges of Working across Differences?
The National Congress of Neighborhood Women, 1974-2006
Founded in 1974, the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW) promised to unite "neighborhood women" in order to help them improve their lives and communities. Based in Brooklyn, New York, the NCNW succeeded in bringing together poor and working-class women from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Because of its diverse membership and its coalition-based organizing strategy, the NCNW offers an excellent study of the ways in which feminists grappled with differences. Since the mid-1970s, the NCNW has worked with professional women allies to create varied programs, while fighting to maintain its working-class values of connectedness to community and its commitment to practicing participatory democracy.
Taken together, the documents in this collection provide a powerful example of how working-class women were able to form cross-racial partnerships to work for women's empowerment and the betterment of their communities. The striking success of the group's leadership support process in helping women to recognize the sources of oppression in their lives and to feel connected to others with similar struggles suggests that consciousness-raising is a necessary strategy for social change. The achievements of the NCNW college program and Project Open Doors reveal that social programs conceived of and run by participants themselves are better able to meet the needs of poor and working-class women and to foster enduring positive change on both an individual and collective level. The NCNW's strategy of partnering with grassroots groups nationally and internationally is key to contesting the increasingly widespread privatization of social policy under the global movement of neoliberalism. The endurance of this coalition for social change is a testament to working-class feminists' dedication to achieving social justice and their ability to find creative solutions to the obstacles blocking the realization of their goals.
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